NEW YORK -- He read Kafka at the tender age of eight, entered college at 11, and graduated at 15. Today, at the age of 24, Ronan Farrow is a special adviser on Youth Issues to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now he’s set to go to Oxford on a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
Listening to him is like watching a movie where deep, adult concepts come out of the body of a boy -- an extra-wise Yoda with the fresh face of Luke Skywalker.
“Young people are the most marginalized group in the world. They suffer from an unemployment rate which is three times higher than that of people over 30,” he says. “During last year’s revolutions, we saw them standing their ground, asking for dignity, demanding the right to be listened to, calling for economic policies that would provide them with the necessary tools to face the global labor market. We understood them and we decided to give them a place at our table.”
The office where we meet him has a magnificent view over Manhattan’s East River. His grey jacket, pink shirt and regimental tie are reminiscent of England’s Prince William a few years back. Ronan had good reason to be a dreamer. He was born Satchel Ronan O'Sullivan Farrow – for Satchel Paige, a legendary Black baseball player – to director Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow. He is also the product of one of the most scandalous relationships of the last century.
Woody and Mia, the master and the muse, never married. The couple didn’t even live together, in fact. Woody lived in a house on the Upper East Side, while Mia had her own sprawling apartment on the Upper West Side, where she lived with all the children she adopted during previous marriages. Right from the beginning, Woody expressed his lack of interest in children. Still, they had a child together.
Satchel was just five when, in 1992, Mia discovered pictures in Woody’s house of a naked Soon-Yi Previn, a Korean girl Mia had adopted with her former husband, André Previn. That is how one of the most ferocious child custody cases began. Woody defended himself by saying he couldn’t control what his heart was feeling, that love was not a rational thing. Mia accused him of molesting their adopted daughter Dylan. In the end, Mia moved to Connecticut with all her children, and Woody married Soon-Yi.
Satchel changed his name to Ronan, cutting ties with Allen. “He’s my father and he’s married to my sister. So that makes me his son and his brother-in-law at the same time,” he says. “This is a major moral transgression. I cannot see him. I cannot have a relationship with him and have moral cohesion. I grew up with all these adopted kids. They’re family. If I would say that Soon-Yi is not my sister it would be an insult to all adopted children.”
Burying himself in books
He could have turned to drugs and depression. Instead Ronan immersed himself in his studies, becoming the youngest graduate in the history of Bard College, a small school in upstate New York. He went on to study law at Yale.
Following in his mother’s footsteps, he dedicated himself to human rights issues, particularly in Darfur and in the Horn of Africa, as a spokesperson for UNICEF. A Wilsonian democracy idealist, but by no means a softie, Ronan worked for the United Nations while at the same time criticizing the international organization for its “cancer,” as he describes the U.N. Human Rights Council.
This is how he met Richard Holbrooke, the legendary peace negotiator in the former Yugoslavia. Holbrooke, who later became President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was the one who helped Ronan get his position with the U.S. State Department. Ronan was one of the few people present in Holbrooke’s office when the famous diplomat had his fatal heart attack in December 2010. Hillary Clinton then took Ronan under her wing, making him her “Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues.”
“I know full well how important women are in diplomacy and development,” he jokes. “I grew up with seven sisters.”
Ronan oversees programs worth more than $100 million. Through this, he has created youth leadership councils in conjunction with U.S. embassies in over 40 countries. The list includes Italy, which the brilliant young man wisely calls “the most beautiful place in the world.”
Read the original article in Italian
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